Former Sri Lankan PM Returns Amid Rising Tensions

Ranil Wickremesinghe, Sri Lankan prime minister

Ranil Wickremesinghe has been appointed as prime minister of Sri Lanka for a fifth time, with the country reeling from outbreaks of violence following a financial crisis which has seen severe shortages of basic supplies.

Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa confirmed the appointment, replacing his brother Mahinda Rajakapsa following violent attacks by the family’s supporters against anti-government protesters, which has further fanned the flames of discontent.

Protesters blame the president, the latest member of the prominent Rajapaksa family to play a leading role in Sri Lankan politics, for pushing the country to the brink of bankruptcy, and have repeatedly called on him to quit. Rajapaksa has until now resisted calls for his resignation.

It is unclear whether the appointment of 73-year-old Wickremesinghe will calm tensions. The politician, who last served as prime minister between 2015 and 2019, faces the difficult task of navigating Sri Lanka’s worst economic crisis since declaring independence, with food shortages and power cuts frequent occurrences at present.

Wickremesinghe spoke with journalists whilst visiting a Buddhist temple after taking his oath, saying he will work with both the government and opposition politicians to return the country to economic stability.

“We want to return the nation to a position where our people will once again have three meals a day,” Wickremesinghe said. “Our youth must have a future.”

Wickremsinghe is viewed as pro-western and in favor of free-market economics, potentially aligning him more closely with the IMF, who Rajapaksa has refused to approach for assistance. The experienced politician has been highly critical of the current regime, and was among those calling for Mahinda Rajapaksa’s resignation following Monday’s violence.